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He founded the most glamorous Hollywood restaurant: La Scala, one of  United States' most famous dining establishments. His wines were so successful they even made their way to the dinner for Ronald Reagan's nomination as President of the United States. 



Jean Leon: A Man in Search of His Dreams

By J.M. Towers

The story of Ceferino Carrión, a Spaniard, who later took the name of Jean Leon, is the journey of a person who wanted to fulfill his most cherished dreams.

Born in 1928, in the Spanish city of Santander, Carrion was a young man who, driven by his dream of becoming someone in life, one day grabbed his suitcase and went to Paris. From the port of Le Havre, he tried seven times to travel to the United States—as a stowaway. He succeeded on the eighth try.

Top: Jean Leon, age 4
Bottom: The original La Scala location on the corner of Beverly Drive
images via La Scala's Facebook

He arrived in New York in the late 1940s with very little money, without speaking a word of English and no place to stay. One night, while sleeping on a park bench his documents were stolen. In the process of renewing his papers, he decided to change his name to Justo Ramón León, which later was transformed into Jean Leon. For the rest of his life, he was to be known by that name.  

He worked as a dishwasher at the Rockefeller Center, and later as a taxi driver. One day, Frank Sinatra boarded his taxi, and the two hit it off immediately. Sinatra suggested he worked as a waiter at Villa Capri restaurant in Los Angeles, and without a second thought, Leon traveled to California where he quickly established contact with many of the most important emerging actors of the golden age of Hollywood in the 1950s.

Top: Jean Leon with Robert Wagner and other restaurant attendees
Bottom: Iranzo, David Janssen and Jean Leon
images via Bodega Torres
His close friend, James Dean, came up with a joint venture: to open the most glamorous restaurant in Hollywood, which was to be called La Scala. This dream could have been truncated because, after agreeing to its creation, the actor died in a car accident. But Jean Leon went ahead with his project, and the restaurant opened its doors on April 1, 1956.

Soon, thanks to the quality of the food and Leon’s charismatic personality, La Scala became a meeting place for actors, filmmakers, producers, and politicians. It was often visited by famous people such as Marilyn Monroe— a great friend of Leon’s— Zsa Zsa Gabor, Paul Newman, Dennis Hooper, Robert Wagner, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, among other important personages of the time.

Jean Leon was the last person to see Marilyn Monroe alive, as the actress requested her dinner on August 4, 1962—a pasta dish that Leon personally delivered to her house.

Over the years, La Scala became one of the most emblematic restaurants in the United States, a place where people went to see and be seen. Leon was happy with his success and recognition but soon started working on his second dream: to produce wine with his name worthy of being served to his clientele.

He sought a place that would have the unique characteristics needed to produce great wines. He found it in a beautiful wine region located in the Penedes region in Catalonia, Spain, where he removed the local strains and replaced them with cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, the first of their kind to be planted in the country.

Toni Francioso, Zsa Zsa Gabor and friends, Jean Leon standing
image via Bodega Torres

 His wines had a great success, to the point of being served— in 1980— at the gala dinner of Ronald Regan's nomination for US President.

At the end of his life, already ill, he sold his winery to his friend Miguel Torres, then CEO of Bodegas Torres, one of the most famous Spanish wineries. It was a gentleman's agreement in which it was decided that the name of Bodegas Torres would never appear in their wines. The agreement has been respected, as the Jean Leon winery continues to receive awards and rave reviews worldwide.

Jean Leon died in Los Angeles in 1996. He was an example of how any dream can come true with tenacity, effort, and work.

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© azureazure.com | 2016


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